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Posts Tagged ‘Great Commission’

Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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The biggest hindrance to Christian youth and college students participating in short-term missions is their parents. I really hate to say that but after thirty years of recruiting college students for summer mission projects, I know this to be true.

Here are a few thoughts for Moms and Dads to think about to help them be more comfortable with what their young people want to do for God.

1. If your goal for your child is that he/she holds on to—even grows in—the faith you have tried to share with them, you need to let them go when they feel called. A great study done by a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University may be all I need to cite:  His study of 25,000 young people in churches of Christ showed that a “summer mission experience” was the top factor correlating with those students who continued in their faith after high school.

2. Before you ask your child to be “sensible” and …….(you fill in the blank with summer school, job, visit Grandma, internship, etc), you should ask yourself what message you are sending about the place of the kingdom in his/her life. Young people tend to “walk by faith” a little more naturally than we adults who have learned what the worst case scenarios are and who try to cover ourselves with insurance against such.

3. Check to see if you are afraid for yourself or are you afraid for your child. Some parents have not traveled much, never been out of the country, never had a passport (even if you are governor of Alaska!). No wonder you are a bit anxious about releasing your student to go to China or Africa or ………  Millions of Americans go overseas every year—for much less important reasons that sharing their faith.   “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.” We have to teach our children Christian bravery.

4. You don’t want to teach your children fear of random violence! One year we had a grandmother who offered to pay her granddaughter to stay safely in Oklahoma.  While the daughter was safely in Germany, the Edmond post office massacre occurred near her “safe” home in Oklahoma.  Unless we want to be crippled by fear, we cannot be live our lives afraid of random violence.

 

5. The best response to your child is to say YES–and to go with them! There is no better activity for Mom and/or Dad than to share some special time serving with your young person in serving the Lord.  Yes, you can do that any weekend at home, but to really step out on faith together, going somewhere very different, meeting people that are very different, but doing the most important task in the world together—there is nothing like it!

Sherrylee and I sometimes wondered if we were ruining our children by taking them with us each summer to do Let’s Start Talking—from early children through their teen years.  I guess I better let them tell you what it has meant to them. . . . but I know that God used it for good, and they are all people of strong faith.  Isn’t that what you want for your children?

 

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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Sherrylee and I are taking a week of vacation, so I am going to use the opportunity to post some of my early blogs that many of you have not seen.  I hope you find them helpful and interesting.

From August 24, 2010

As I was writing, I was reminded of my sister-in-law Janet, who lived with her family in a pretty rough part of New Jersey for many years. Her children grew up walking and riding public transportation through city parts that would frighten lots of parents in more suburban settings.

She made it a practice as they walked out the door into the challenges of their world to arm her children with these words: “Remember your baptism!”

I was talking to a very good Christian friend recently, who was describing to me moments of doubt, doubt about whether he was good enough, doubt if he was the example he wanted to be to others, even a hint of doubt about his salvation.  He is sometimes angry about how his parents raised him to believe, and he is definitely angry about the great sense of guilt and eternal uncertainty that he received from the church he grew up in.

In an attempt to help this friend, I found Janet’s words to be perhaps the most appropriate thing I could say: “Remember your baptism.”

If you don’t really connect with these words, I suspect you grew up in the same kind of church I did, where baptism was unintentionally perverted.  Without impugning what was taught because we don’t always hear what was intended, here is what I learned about baptism:

  • The ritual act of baptism is what is most important.  This had to be because our preaching was all about immersion over any other form, about the age to be baptized, and occasionally about the words that were spoken by the baptizer. If any of these ritual elements were tainted, then most likely, the baptism was not effective. I have seen people baptized again because their arm did not go under the water with the rest of their body, because they were too young to understand everything they needed to understand, and because the person who baptized them did use the triune formula, rather just baptized in the name of Jesus.
  • Baptism was a rite of passage. You had to be 11-12 years old—anything younger and you were suspect. At baptism, you became a member of the church—which, if you were a boy, meant you could not only take communion, but serve communion and lead public prayers.  Girls could only take communion.
  • Baptism separated the saved from the unsaved.

At this point, you may be surprised to hear me say that I still have a very high view of baptism. I might even say I still believe the above—just much differently. Let me explain:

  • The biggest change in my theology of baptism is an understanding that it is all about what God does in baptism and less about what we do. Rather than “getting baptized” which is how it is generally described where I go to church, I wish we would talk about “receiving baptism” as I’ve heard in other churches. The first emphasizes the initiative and activity of the person, the second is more passive. The person is the recipient of the grace, created and extended by God through Jesus, separate and apart from anything we might do to earn it.
  • The symbol of burial and resurrection inherent in immersion is indisputably connected to the meaning of the sacrament. If you mess with the symbolism, you start opening doors to new understandings of the rite.
  • I still believe baptism is a rite of passage, but of passage from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from carnal to spiritual, from the old man to the new, from the old creature to the new creation, from death to life.

So, here’s the BIG question: does baptism separate the saved from the unsaved? The real answer is that the blood of Jesus separates the saved from the unsaved. He died to destroy Sin and was raised to bring Life.  As Paul said in Romans 6, those who participate in His death will share in His resurrection. Paul says, “Remember your baptism!”

  • Remember that you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
  • Remember that your old life was buried in the tomb with Jesus.
  • Remember that you are new—not old or refurbished–resurrected!
  • Remember that you are not your own. You were bought with a price.
  • Remember that on the day of your baptism, God worked the miracle of salvation on you.

God says in baptism that He is for you!

And if God is for you, who can be against you?

That should be enough to get you through your day!

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One of my favorite heroes of faith is the Thai minister of a church in Bangkok, who truly understands that there is not a distinction between mission field churches who are “receivers” of missions and churches who are “doers” of missions.  Although working in Thailand, itself a Buddhist country and the object of mission work, the Thai churches that he has planted are reaching out in Laos and Myanmar—and he has plans and dreams for preaching to the 40 million Thai-language Chinese people.

We know a church in Moscow, less than twenty years old itself, who is launching a mission effort into Istanbul, Turkey. Singaporean Christians are sending missionaries into Cambodia and China, while Christians from Ghana have planted large congregations in Western Europe.

One of the most impressive examples of great churches focusing outside, not in, is the Back To Jerusalem movement among Chinese Christians.  Christians from Mainland China have committed to send each other into ALL the countries of the countries, where 90% of the non-Christians of the world live.

If you go to the question and answer pages for mission efforts like Back To Jerusalem, the first question is always: why are you sending people other places; don’t you have enough to do at home? Every missionary and every mission-minded church has been confronted with the same question.  Here is my answer: Of course, the Great Commission includes home, but who will share the Good News with the billions who have never heard of Jesus, if the biggest churches with the most Christians in every country all stay home??

Great churches—wherever they are and whatever size they may be—understand that they are a part of the call to the Body of Christ to “go into the entire world.” Here are some practical suggestions for leading your church to go into the entire world:

  1. Put the whole world on display. What do your members really know about your own mission work? What do they know about the persecuted church? What do they know about the inspiring mission efforts of Christians around the world?  If your members are ill-informed, then they are uninspired. What can you do to change this?
  2. Talk about world Christians. Many of my personal heroes of faith are men and women that are virtually unknown in the United States. They do not make the lectureship circuits, they are not widely published, they are not center page spreads for Christian newspapers. If you are a church leader, you should get out, meet these unknown heroes, then come home and talk about them!
  3. Avoid protectionism. The era of allowing foreign evangelists and missionaries to talk, to preach, to show their slides in our assemblies has been over for decades. Most leaders decided their members needed protecting, although it may have been more motivated by efforts to keep their contributions at home.  Don’t be afraid. Raise the vision for global work by providing platforms—often—for those who are going out from among us!! Don’t be afraid. The local work will grow as people’s vision for the world grows.
  4. Abandon the idea of “mine” and “God’s”: Our members travel. We fly, we cruise, we RV, we camp, we hike, we backpack, we tour.  How can we give this part of our lives more to the Will of God instead of thinking of it as OUR special time?  At LST, we hear constantly from adult Christians who take their two-week vacation and go somewhere to share their faith that it was work, BUT it was the most re-creational activity they have ever done.  Great churches help their members give all of their life in God’s work.
  5. Great churches have leaders who GO! I really believe that every preacher/minister, every church leader would be a greater leader and better able to inspire if he/she would regularly be personally involved in evangelistic mission efforts—preferably outside of their own culture.

Great churches understand that they are not exempt from going into the entire world.

 

Next:  Great churches understand the relationship between benevolence and evangelism!

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The person who desires to become a full-time missionary supported by churches of Christ has an extraordinarily difficult mountain to climb—unduly difficult—before they will ever reach the mission field. Many never attempt to climb the mountain, and others fall off the mountain in the attempt.

 The current support/oversight paradigm among churches of Christ discourages both potential and existing missionaries. The results are too few long-term missionaries which means less mission work and fewer souls hearing the story of Jesus—none of which can possibly be pleasing to God!

I want to challenge us to rethink the oversight-support model for long-term mission work from churches of Christ and look together at a different model of oversight/support that will lead, I believe, to more missionaries who stay longer and can reach more people more effectively.

Let’s first work our way through the whole process of becoming a missionary as it generally happens among churches of Christ.

First Decisions

 When someone is motivated to become a missionary, he/she/they usually will go through a series of decisive steps before they actually can begin their work.  The basis for all of these decisions is usually the point of first inspiration.

  • If they were inspired by a short-term mission experience, then they want to return to the field they first experienced and work in a similar manner to the missionaries with whom they have worked.
  • If they were inspired by a teacher/mentor, they will make their choice based on the teacher/mentor’s experiences.
  • If they were inspired by a challenge or a public presentation, they will look for an expert (mission professor, missionary, preacher, mission organization.) to help them proceed.
  • Decisions about the field of work are most often driven first by inspiration, followed usually by short-term mission experience in a field or a short survey trip. The experiences and information gained are then supplemented with interviews with current and past missionaries to whom the potential worker might have access.
  • Decisions about the type of work are more difficult.  
  1. First plans are often very broad plans, such as church planting, strengthen the local church, campus ministry, even community outreach.
  2. Some plans are method specific; for example, potential missionaries might decide to start house churches, or do children’s work, or do media-based evangelism.
  3. First plans made by mission teams are often very personality and role specific. For example, the team might have one couple that likes children, so they will plan to do children’s work, while another team member wants to preach, so they will plan for public preaching. Overall their plans still tend to be broad.
  • Decisions about means and types of preparation depend mostly on those advising the future missionary.
  1. Undergraduates/graduate students at Christian universities may begin by taking general mission courses and seeking contact with mentors in mission study groups.
  2. Some desiring to do mission work may seek out higher level mission training, for example, through ACU Summer Mission Seminar, SIBI Advanced Mission Training.
  3. A few parachurch ministries offer mission training.  Continent of Great Cities and Missions Resource Network come to mind right away.
  4. Other people will look for short-term internships on the desired field, if possible, with a current missionary.
  5. Many will work with American churches—often required by sponsoring congregations– and learn to work with and evangelize through an American model.And there are those who will go with little or no specialized training other than their own life/church experiences. This is especially true of those who are a bit older when they decide to become missionaries.

If you haven’t already, go back through this first section and notice the following:

  • All initiative and initial actions come from the person desiring to become a missionary, who is most often untrained, inexperienced, perhaps not completely educated, but highly motivated.
  • While capable professors, mentors, and friends are available for guiding potential missionaries, the number of options for fields, types of work, and for training are enormous. In my experience, most go along a path of inspiration and least resistance rather than a strategic path.

And this is the easy part! Next, I want to lay out the ways we in churches of Christ have typically supported and overseen foreign mission work—and why it is an unsuccessful paradigm.

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World_face_north_america

Third in a series of guests posts from Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA).

Today’s post offers some relatively blunt observations regarding the relative strength of a church and it’s ability to be a good “missions church.” I offer these with redemptive intent–wanting churches to become all God wants them to be.

  • My experience is that struggling churches struggle for good reasons. It usually has something to do with leadership issues, and those issues by nature permeate all aspects of the church. It’s important for the sake of missionaries these issues are dealt with. Typically (though not always), churches will do mission work with the same level of health and excellence they do local ministry. Bad local ministry, bad missions ministry. If they don’t show care for what is happening locally, they typically won’t care about what God’s doing half a world away. This is another reason to pay attention to local ministry…it buoys the eventual effectiveness of whatever happens overseas.
  • A lack of well-formed theology and ecclesiology manifests itself in silo thinking. In this mindset, church-planting, benevolence, global missions, local ministry, campus ministry, etc…are all completely different ministries needing their own advocates at the church leadership table. In this way of thinking, each ministry is separate and altogether disconnected. The silo mentality is one of the great enemies of global missions ministry and healthy ministry. The church is a Body, and each part is connected. Both practically and theologically, when all parts are working together for the common good of the Body according to their place, the church grows in unity, vibrancy, and effectiveness. We cannot just report on missions. Biblical teaching on the church, ministry and the nature of evangelism is an important part of becoming a good missions church.
  • Integrated ministry recognizes the symbiotic relationship between all ministries of the church. It leverages the strengths of all for the sake of all. This why effective global mission requires more ingenuity, a strong focus on integration with the ministries of the whole church and less initial funding than one might think.
  • Most churches still view “successful” mission works as those they have supported for many years…regardless of their effectiveness or the real impact of continual support for decades. This way of looking at missions bottlenecks resources at a national level and tends to build co-dependent relationships between congregations and mission points. Relationally, it’s wonderful to continue to support a particular work. However, the relationship can continue regardless of support…as a parent doesn’t cut off relationship with a child once they leave the house. It’s important that mission efforts become self-supporting after some reasonable period of time–for their good and that of the supporting congregation.
  • Here is a difficult one. Struggling churches usually have declining budgets as well. They often will only cut missions as a last resort and will thus kill the proverbial “goose” by first slashing local ministries, cutting salaries, etc. in draconian fashion–which often means more decline, which means less revenue, which means more cuts, etc. This is a noble impulse, but HUGE mistake. Sometimes this must happen–but not usually. More on that in another post. For now, I would recommend cutting what isn’t working wherever it’s located and moving the resources to where the most good for the Kingdom can be accomplished. That’s a delicate process of discernment…but a necessary one.
  • If the “goose” continues to be plucked or starved, at some point, the ministers of the church come to view missions as a competitor rather than an ally in what God’s doing in the church. This is never good…and isn’t necessarily all the minister’s fault. The minister may fear blame for the church’s decline when he or she didn’t have much to do with it–they simply had the ball taken out of their hands. The ministers need to be strong allies in building a vibrant global missions ministry. In fact, I would start building buy-in with them first.

Which brings me to the next posts in this series: Concrete steps to improve both your church and the church’s global mission efforts.

I would enjoy hearing to what extent to you believe world missions is separate or different from other ministries of the church? Why?

 

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